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Better League, 2

June 7, 2022
                                                             The Better League, 2

Age Strength Analysis


            The concept of Age Strength Analysis was explained in the opening article of this series, which was published on June 3, 2022.   This article uses the process that was explained.

            This study covers 281 leagues, which are:

                        The National League, 1876-2021                       146 Leagues

                        The American League, 1901-2021                     121 Leagues

                        The American Association, 1882-1891               10 Leagues

                        The Federal League, 1914-1915                              2 Leagues

                        The Player’s League, 1890                                        1 League

                  &​nbsp;     The Union Association, 1884                                   1 League


            Of course I would include the Negro Leagues here if I had sufficient data, but I don’t.  When I started this work, I realized that the only data set I have which has complete enough data for this problem is Win Shares data, so I did the study based on Win Shares, rather than Plate Appearances or Innings, as suggested in the original article.   One is about as good as the other for this purpose. 

            The early leagues, the 1870s and 1880s leagues, have the lowest figures of all time, and really, the main contribution of this part of the analysis is to push the "emerging" leagues to the back of the line where they belong (although there are also many other indicators which will also do that.)   In 1876, a 20-year-old pitcher, Tommy Bond, pitched 408 innnings, going 31-13 with a 1.68 ERA.  In 1879, a 19-year-old pitcher pitched 578 innings, going 47-19.  In 1882, an 18-year-old pitcher pitched 388 innings in the American Association.  In 1888 a 20-year-old pitcher pitched 585 innings in the American Association, going 45-20. 

            My argument essentially is that these facts should cause you to question the relative strength of the league.  In the 1880s the average LASE (League Age Strength Evaluation) was about .880.   This "normalized" very quickly after that, moving up to something very close to modern standards within 30 years.   By 1900 the LASE was around .918, by 1910, around .922.   The overall average for all of major league history is .922.   The 100 years since 1910 are mostly over .922, but just a few points over.  All 111 years since 1910 just balance the early years.   The norms now are in the .930s, let’s say .935.  

            92.2%.  What I am saying is that a major league player’s career generally occurs in and covers the ages in which he is at about 92.2% of his peak performance capacity based on age.  We assume, summarizing what I explained in the opening article. . .we assume that a player at age 17 or at age 47 has 0% of his major league peak ability, and at 27 he has 100%--not every player, but overall.   At 18, a player is presumed to have 19% of his peak ability.  At 21 he is presumed to have 64%; at 24, 91%, at 27, 100%, at 30, 98%, at 33, 91%, at 36, 80%, at 39, 64%, at 42, 44%, at 45, 19%.   Most of a player’s career, for most players, takes place in that period between ages 24 and 36, when his skills are over 90% of his peak skill level.   Not very many players are so good that they reach the majors significantly earlier than that, or last beyond the time when their skills have slipped by more than 10%.

            In a minute, we’ll convert this .922 norm into a stat with a .500 norm. 

            An external measurement of league quality, such as we discussed yesterday, World Series and All Star Games. . . an external measurement centers at .500; if one league is over, the other league is under.  Internal measurements aren’t like that.  The LASE moves up and down, both leagues can be over the norm, both leagues under; a league can be weak one year and strong the next, it’s not an anomaly.  You’re not going to get one league being stronger than the other for 12 straight years.   This measure won’t pick that up.

            But if one league is stronger than the other, players who are off-peak age are a little bit more likely to show up in the weaker league; that’s all we’re saying.  In the American League in 1964, Tony Conigliaro, who was 19 years old, hit .290 with 24 homers in 111 games, and Wally Bunker, who was 19 years old, went 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA.  The League Age Strength Evaluation is .918, the lowest it had been since 1945.   In 1965 it went even lower.  Probably you accept the logic.

            But in 1939 Ted Williams, who was only 20 years old, drove in 145 runs, and Bob Feller, who was only 20 years old, went 24-9 with 246 strikeouts.  The League Age Strength Indicator was the lowest it had been since 1909.  

            You may find THAT harder to accept, because it is Bob Feller and Ted Williams, who turned out to be all-time greats, rather than Conigliaro and Bunker, who didn’t.   You may be right.  Actually, the LASE for the American League was ALREADY very low, before 1939; the big seasons by Feller and Williams just made it a little lower.  You can accept it; you can reject it.  I’m just trying to get you to understand the logic to it.   When you have a 19-year-old pitcher going 47-19, that ain’t a real good league.  Probably. 

            The highest and lowest LASE of all time are:

                        1995 National League                   .953

                        1993 National League                   .951

                     &​nbsp;  1994 National League                   .949

                        1919 American League                 .947

                  ​;      1920 American League                 .945


                        1884 Union Association                .843

                    &nb​sp;   1887 American Association           .841

                        1879 National League                   .831

                        1880 National League                   .824

                        1878 National League                   .791


            The LASE generally spikes upward when there is any disruption in the schedule, such as 1918-1919 (World War I and the Spanish Flu), 1972 (strike), 1981 (strike), 1994-1995 (strike) or 2020 (National Comedy Convention, you remember.)  When the schedule is interrupted, young players don’t get much opportunity to break in.  

            We can convert the LASE into a number centered at .500 in this way.   The average LASE over time is .921 551.   Raise that to the fourth power, and you have .721 237. 

            The LASECI (LASE, Converted to an Indicator) is the team’s LASE, raised to the fourth power, divided by (the same) plus .721 237.   It’s the Pythagorean form, only using the exponent 4, rather than 2.

            Why 4, rather than 2?   I tried 2 (tried squaring it), but if you compare the lowest number in the chart (.791, 1878 National League). . .if you compare that to the average (.922) by the straight Pythagorean method, you get .424.  There is no way in hell a team from the 1878 National League could play .424 baseball against modern teams, so that’s just not realistic. 

            I raised the exponent to 4, which cuts the output for the 1878 National League to .351.  Frankly, there is no way in hell that a team from the 1878 National League could play .351 baseball against a modern team, either.  They’d be lucky to get to .050.  But if you make the exponent TOO large, then you exaggerate the advantage of those leagues which happen to have very low League Age Distributions.   The indicator just isn’t that reliable when you exaggerate small differences too much.  Using the exponent 4 makes the average .500, but the standard deviation is still a very modest .022, and the highest figure ever is just .533.  The #1 team on the list is just one and a half standard deviations above the norm, while the last team is almost seven standard deviations below the norm.   It’s a very odd distribution, a result of a series of somewhat arbitrary calculation choices—and yet, clearly NOT completely arbitrary results.  It’s just the best I can do with it.   It’s just an indicator, one among many.  


COMMENTS (3 Comments, most recent shown first)

Rallymonkey: yes, but give a modern team a year to practice with 1878 rules and equipment, I'd put my money on the modern teams maybe 2 to 1.
11:53 AM Jun 8th
Interesting observations about the 1939 American League, which was dominated by one of the great Yankee teams (106-45). The Yankees scored well over six runs a game while the A's and Browns both allowed more runs per game than the Yankees scored. The A's won 55 games, the Browns just 43 despite their Pythagorean records being nearly identical. Those were the only two terrible teams in the league, but they were pretty terrible, and the other six got to play them 44 times each.
11:53 AM Jun 8th
I think there’s a way to get an 1878 team to play competitive ball with the moderns (assuming we have a time machine to get them on the same field.)

Play with 1878 equipment and rules. No gloves allowed. No overhand pitches.
2:37 PM Jun 7th
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